Minneapolis livable wage ordinance nears approval

Cati Vanden Breul

The Minneapolis City Council is one step closer to adopting an ordinance that would determine how much city contractors have to pay their employees.

At a public hearing of the City Council’s Ways and Means/Budget Committee on Monday, committee members approved a proposed ordinance that would require city contractors to pay employees a wage equal to at least 130 percent of the federal poverty level.

The full council will vote on the ordinance Friday.

Under the ordinance, city contractors or businesses receiving a subsidy from the city of $100,000 or more would be required to pay employees a livable wage, which currently is $12 an hour.

A livable wage is the level at which families can afford to feed the household with their salary and are no longer eligible for food stamps, said Ryan Greenwood, executive director of Progressive Minnesota.

At a news conference before the hearing, Adekar Mosae, a municipal parking attendant for Minneapolis, said a living wage ordinance would help him support his family.

Mosae said he came to the United States from Ethiopia in hopes of finding a better life, but has not been able to afford adequate food or housing for his family in Minneapolis.

“I expected that we’d live better, but we see the same life,” he said.

Mosae’s salary would increase under the ordinance by $2 an hour.

More than 20 faith, labor and community organizations, including Progressive Minnesota, are leading a coalition pushing for a living wage ordinance in Minneapolis.

More than 100 cities across the country already have adopted living wage policies, Greenwood said.

Los Angeles adopted a living wage policy in 1997, and has seen positive results, said Vivian Rothstein, deputy director of Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy.

She said employees have stayed at their jobs longer, and businesses have saved money because of lower turnover.

According to a study conducted by the University of California-Los Angeles, the Los Angeles ordinance has increased pay for an estimated 10,000 workers, with a 1 percent reduction in employment at the affected businesses.

But Todd Klingel, president of the Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce, said he had some concerns about approving a livable wage ordinance in Minneapolis.

He asked council members to consider the possible unintended consequences of the policy before they approve the proposal.

A living wage ordinance could inhibit economic growth in Minneapolis if businesses choose to develop in other cities, where they could decide what to pay their employees, he said.

Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak said in a statement that he supported a living wage ordinance in Minneapolis, but before he signs the proposal, he’d have to see a commitment from other partners in the region.

“If there is an ordinance in the city of Minneapolis and not one in Hennepin County, it will make it difficult for people to do business in the city,” said Rybak’s campaign manager, John Blackshaw.

Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin, who is challenging Rybak in the mayoral race, was at the news conference and said he supports the current proposal.

“I hope the mayor gets off the fence and supports this,” McLaughlin said.

By the end of the hearing, nine of 13 council members had signed on to write the proposal.

“It shows that the majority of City Council thinks having a living wage standard makes sense for Minneapolis,” Greenwood said.